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Soul Surfer (2011) - Movie Review for Parents

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Soul Surfer
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Bottom line: Soul Surfer relives the inspiring true story of surfer Bethany Hamilton. The story of a young girl overcoming tragedy is truly uplifting and amazing, but young children may be frightened or disturbed by the portrayal of a shark accident and the resulting physical and emotional trauma.

MPAA Rating: PG, for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material
Guide age recommendation: 8+
Genre: Biography/drama
Runtime: 106 minutes
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, AnnaSophia Robb, Carrie Underwood
Release Date: April 8, 2011/DVD & Blu-ray August 2, 2011

Soul Surfer - Overview

For native Hawaiian Bethany Hamilton, surfing is her life. Bethany and her best friend Alana spend as much time in the water as possible, and they are both very competitive. So they are very excited when they get the promotional deal of their dreams. Everything is going just as they dreamed it would, when tragedy strikes.

On a surfing trip with Alana's family, Bethany is suddenly and savagely attacked by a shark. The shark takes Bethany's arm, but thankfully, Alana and her family are able to get Bethany to safety in time. Soul Surfer is the story of Bethany's difficult recovery, and her determination. With a supportive family and strong faith, Bethany is able to swim past all the obstacles and land herself back on her board. Through her journey, Bethany realizes that maybe surfing isn't her whole life, though it could be the key to something even more meaningful.

Soul Surfer - Guide Review for Parents

AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) gives an amazing performance as Bethany Hamilton in Soul Surfer. The movie tells Bethany's story in a way that is poignant and touching, but the emotional heaviness is lightened by the strong emphasis on what is inspiring and uplifting about her experience.

As is to be expected, some children may be afraid or very disturbed by the portrayal of the shark attack. The actual attack happens quickly in the movie, but that one quick moment changes the lives of Bethany and her friends and family forever. Again, though, the focus of the movie is on her recovery, her faith, and her determination to accept her challenge and overcome it. One of the most telling parts of the movie is when Bethany responds to a group of reporters, saying that she would not go back and change the day the terrible attack occurred. She feels that her life is more meaningful, and she is able to reach out to more people because of what she endured. For kids who are old enough to understand the events and learn from Bethany's story, the movie is worth the time and offers a wonderful perspective on overcoming adversity and living a meaningful life.

In addition to the shark attack, there are some thematic elements that may be unsettling for young children. The family struggles with what happened to Bethany, and even her best friend has a hard time facing what happened. Also, there are a couple of examples of bad behavior in the movie. One surfer is generally catty and arrogant, and a couple of surfers trade mild insults or do things like knock each other over in the water. Also, in one scene, Bethany sneaks out with her best friend and goes surfing at night without her parents' permission.

Soul Surfer - Content Overview

*May contain spoilers.

  • Violence (Medium): Obviously, the shark attack is the big thing here. We see the shark pop up out of the water and Bethany go under. We see that her arm is missing and there is a bloody stub. A couple of minor surfer skirmishes occur in the water where surfers steal each others' waves or knock each other over.
  • Scary Scenes (Medium): The shark scene could be very scary to children.
  • Sex/Nudity (Low): The movie is set mainly on the beaches of Hawaii, so there are a lot of people in various types of bathing suits and bikinis.
  • Drugs and Alcohol (None)
  • Language (Low): The phrase "Oh my God" or variants are used a couple of times.
  • Disrespectful/Imitative Behavior (Medium): Bethany and Alana sneak out to go night surfing with friends. Some surfers insult each other and act arrogant.
  • Sad/Unsettling Scenes (High): Bethany and her family go through and emotional and difficult ordeal as they try to come to terms with what happened to her. Alana has nightmares and is afraid Bethany will die. The scenes getting Bethany to the hospital after the attack are tense and emotional.
  • Movie Topics Kids Might Have Questions About: sharks, surfing, handicaps, overcoming challenges, competitions, killing animals (the shark that attacked Bethany is killed), faith, church, serving others, setting an example

Soul Surfer - Blu-ray Features

The DVD and Blu-ray versions of the movie include bonus features that introduce viewers to the real Bethany Hamilton and show how she was extensively involved with the film, and she even chose the actress who would play her. The features also show how the scenes after the shark attack were done, specifically, how they were able to hide AnnaSophia Robb's arm and what she had to learn in order to play the part of a surfer. Seeing the features really drives home the knowledge that it is a true story about a truly amazing girl. The bonus features include:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • “The Making of Soul Surfer” Featurette
  • “Surfing for the Screen: Inside the Action” Featurette
  • “Becoming Bethany” Featurette
  • “Heart of a Soul Surfer” Documentary

Disclosure: The studio provided a free screening of this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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